By Vania Andre
After a whirlwind campaign that included big-name endorsements from the Working Families Party and the New York Times, Councilman Jumaane D. Williams and Sex & the City actress Cynthia Nixon lost their quest for lieutenant governor and governor of New York Thursday night.
At a lounge and restaurant in the heart of East Flatbush, an interesting blend of Williams and Nixon supporters converged across the space. The venue, which is owned by the man that Williams beat out in his first term for City Council, was packed with supporters from all religions, races, and backgrounds. They talked amongst themselves, while constantly checking their phones on one hand, with a plate of traditional Caribbean food in the other.
“We shook up the world,” Williams said, facing a crowd of supporters and media, with his mother, sister and close friends on stage with him. “I entered this race to do what I’ve always done– be an advocate for the people who need a voice, who need to be uplifted. And no matter where I am or what my title is, that’s what I’m going to continue to do. Be a megaphone for communities in need, all across New York.”
Despite the lost, Williams’ defeat appears to be paving a path to a role that many believe was a natural fit for him in the first place. Letitia James’ victory for attorney general will open the seat for public advocate once she steps down in 2019.
Listen up, folks. Jumaane is not going to go away. He WILL run for statewide office again. He ran one helluva grassroots campaign. He’s gonna come back bigger and better! https://t.co/2LG9bhAvH7— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) September 14, 2018
“He came pretty close to winning, and I think [the lieutenant governor’s] race was set up to build him up to potentially run for public advocate,” said George Arzt, a longtime Democratic political consultant, said to the New York Post.
Williams has been elected three times as a city councilman, representing Brooklyn neighborhoods including Flatbush, Midwood and Canarsie.
His campaign for lieutenant governor was focused on not just being a “rubber stamp” for the governor.
“The lieutenant governor’s office has been one that simply does what the governor says to do,” he said during a debate with Hochul.
In the City Council, Williams has been outspoken against police violence and in promoting affordable housing and immigrant rights. Bills he has sponsored include the Community Safety Act, which created the Office of Inspector General in the NYPD, and the “Ban the Box” bill, which prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history before making an offer.
Williams, who ran a small grassroots campaign managed to nab 47 percent of the vote. His message was centered on the idea that “any blue just won’t due,” calling out Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the Independent Democratic Conference for their nonprogressive views and stances on issues like affordable housing in the city. However, despite strong support from major unions and endorsements from big name supporters and politicians, like Senator Bernie Sanders, Williams efforts were not enough to pull support from the upstate counties and even Nassau and Suffolk County. In fact, the only boroughs he won were Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Although he was unable to secure the lieutenant governor seat, his potential ascension to public advocate has widespread implications for immigrant and communities of color across the city. The self-described activist, has long been a friend to the Haitian community, who comprises a significant portion of his district in central Brooklyn. Williams has been instrumental both in front and behind the scenes of key Haitian-centered initiatives like the Haitian Studies Institute housed at Brooklyn College and the creation of Little Haiti in East Flatbush, and has even been named an “honorary Haitian” by the Haitian Roundtable.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Cuomo on the other hand has had little to no contact with Haitian and other immigrant communities in the city, leaving many to question whether the third-term governor will be able to find supporters in his home state should he run for president in 2020.
The community however still has its fair share of representation and advocates on the local level. Thursday saw victories for Haitian-Americans Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte and District Leader Josue Pierre.